Utopian Thought Experiment #7

1. Multilingual or omnilingual linguistic set up for game environment [1]. The more languages the better. The more subtitles the better.
2. Individual characters are tied to their various languages and subtitles.
3. Current statistics of national languages and used languages within any given nation tied to the user determined ‘locale.’

1. So here I’m going to sprinkle a bit of abuse (Derrida -> Lewis -> Nornes) on top of the utopia [2]. Not just the languages, but what one could do with languages to rob people of their safe homeness. Their belief that they are alone with their friends and family and don’t need to deal with the world.
2. The game reads the locale, as usual, and loads the appropriate localization. I’m in “United States” and my language is English. It loads appropriately. Or does it.
3. The United States of America has one [ed: de facto, and this is problematic, I know] official language: English. Language chauvinism is ripe and often linked to nationalistic/anti-foreign fervor. As a result, the fact that ~25% of all people in the United States speak a language other than English at home goes unmentioned, or at least ignored [3].
4. The game reads the current statistics of the determined locale and finds that 75% of the populace speaks English, 12% speaks Spanish, and then there are a massive host of other native, exilic, diasporic and immigrant languages. The game allocates these percentages by rounding up.
5. The player must then interact with their locale not as a safe environment, but as a unhappily statistical environment (I am loathe to say ‘real’).
6. This could work in the US as above, but it could also work elsewhere. Japanese in Japan is not as homogenous as it would like to believe, nor is Mandarin in China, or Israeli in Israel.

[1] This refers to a accessible and user increasable plethora of languages as opposed to the standard variation of one language per one locale or one language loaded as determined by the OS.
[2] Lewis, Philip E. “The Measure of Translation Effects.” In Difference in Translation, edited by Joseph F. Graham. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985; Nornes, Markus. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
[3] This is the 2000 census as the 2010 has not yet be uploaded to the web. http://www.census.gov/population/www/cen2000/briefs/phc-t20/index.html

The First ‘Actual’ [International Edition]

At the Tokyo Game Show Square-Enix informed the public about the release of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix. Like the rest of the International Editions this will include English voices; unlike Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+ it will likely not include the theater mode with both English and Japanese cinematics; unlike all previous International Editions this one will be playable in other regions, which is to say, internationally.

The known so far is that it will be released with the North American edition’s (English) voice acting, have a sticker system, a new boss and new enemies, and possibly a secret ending. This mostly comes from the unrecordable video in the Square-Enix booth at the Tokyo Game Show, and the Famitsu page [1], both of which have been blogged across the net. Other than these details most is unknown, but a few things can be deduced/guessed.

Because Birth By Sleep is a PlayStation Portable game a few interesting things can happen. The first is that the data disk is more limited than a DVD. Therefore, the direct implementation of both voice tracks is unlikely (or impossible). This means that the theater mode from KH 2:FM+ will likely not happen, and it also means that there will not be multiple selectable vocal tracks, which only Star Ocean: The Last Hope International (for PS3) has had in the past. The most common thread across the English blogs following this line of thinking is that the game has no release date in the US and it will most likely not be brought over like the other Final Mixes. However, what they’re missing is that because Birth By Sleep is on the PSP it becomes easily playable internationally, and the recent Sony announcement of cross region sales on the PlaystationStore [2, 3] make this even more interesting.

Unlike the PS, PS2 and PS3, the PSP does not use region encoded data disks, which means that a player has almost no restrictions on what s/he can play. That which becomes a restriction is availability. However, with Sony’s cross country sales implementation this also will be less of an issue. Less because what is put up on the store is a limited selection of what actually has been released on disks. The fact that all of two games were uploaded to the store in the first update shows the problem here.

However, regardless of the PlayStation Store’s implementation people around the world will be able to play the new “International Edition,” Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep Final Mix, and likely be upset with its naturalized global English. Of course, such availability/downloadability could force Square-Enix to make available truly International Editions that fully support multiple languages through downloading (after all, there is no size limit to an SD card). This is, of course, and unlikely eventuality, but I can only hope…


  • [1] ファミ通.com. “東京ケームショウ特集: 始まりへとつながる眠りの物語が再び紡がれる『キングダム ハーツ バース バイ スリープ ファイナル ミックス』.” Accessed: September 25, 2010. http://www.famitsu.com/news/201009/25034046.html
  • [2] Chen, Grace. Playstation.Blog. “PlayStation Store Update.” Posted: September 20, 2010. Accessed: September 25, 2010. http://blog.us.playstation.com/2010/09/20/playstation-store-update-157/
  • [3] Kotaku. “The PlayStation Store to Start Selling Japanese Imports This Month.” Posted: September 16, 2010. Accessed: September 25, 2010. http://kotaku.com/5640254/the-playstation-store-to-start-selling-japanese-imports-this-month

Censorship vs. Localization

There has been varied, but relatively constant noise being made by the World of Warcraft community about the Chinese release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Said in one way it is simply a year late. This is normal practice for some operating systems or languages, but for an MMO expansion pack it is a bit more visible, and with angry waiting fans it’s even more visible.

The thing about WotLK is that it has been ready for release for a year, but has gotten hung up in requirements put forth by the Chinese government regarding its release. These requirements have been dubbed censorship by the fanbase (particularly those on Kotaku and MMO-Champion), but the interesting element is that these are simply localization [L10n] issues from a different angle.

The main points of contention are skeletons: skeletons under cauldrons and against walls, skulls on spikes, skulls on weapons, skeletal knees poking out of zombie bodies, giant bone animals, and I’m not sure about skeletons in armor. The claimed ideological basis for and defense of, the censorship is that ancestor veneration, signified by being good to the bones of ancestors, is difficult when you’re going around destroying those bones/skeletons/zombies or putting them on weapons or spikes. Of course, there’s a slight problem when the the the majority of the expac deals with necromancy and its problems (via the Lich King). In short, the narrative of WoW: WotLK is hard to localize to China.

And yet, it has been done. Skulls are removed, zombies have no bones, and bone dragons and bone griffons are transformed to flashy ghost dragons and griffons. Is this a sign that, indeed, narrative does not matter? Or is it a sign that millions of ravenous players will force certain hands, and this is the best the Chinese government (particularly the the ministry in charge of publications and press (GAPP) and the ministry of culture (MOC)) is going to get (the fact that other games, particularly other, more local MMOs such as Perfect World were not put through such direct censorship, but multinational Blizzard’s MMO was is, perhaps, telling)? Or, is it just a sign that L10n really is the way things work now, and like translation only becoming visible with its mistakes, L10n is only visible when it doesn’t happen ‘properly,’ which is to say when it isn’t localized enough and is thus put through additional censorship. Games that are localized enough (self censored in both the production and L10n phases) do not need censorship; games that are not localized enough get censored before release.

This logic seems to be mirrored in calls to limit indigenous exclamations in Final Fantasy XIII (Koncewicz), which would make L10n easier, or at least possible due to the extensiveness of these noises (one of many places where you can seen these unlocalized noises is in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks). But what they’re asking for goes part and parcel with the L10n process as internationalization [i18n], the production level planing for L10n. Both Koncewicz and guides to L10n indicate making assets easily changeable is best practice for i18n as L10n can then more easily push the product into some parituclar locale. However, while Koncewicz indicates this was the intention of FFXIII as an internationally aimed game it seems to be opposed by the very imbeddedness of certain games into certain cultures (Subarashiki kono sekai, which is subtitled It’s A Wonderful World in Japanese, but localized as The World Ends With You in English is an interesting example). Thus, the complaints of FFXIII are less against L10n than against Square-Enix’s i18n process and the idiosyncrasies that they do not want to delete from FFXIII and other games.

However, in the case of WotLK, Netease.com, the company releasing WoW in China, wants to censor, but did a poor job self censoring in the L10n process, and Blizzard in fact did not i18n ‘enough’ in the development process. One might also extend this claim by saying their recent, much lauded Starcraft II L10n is a direct step up from the failure of localizing WotLK for China. The ‘enough’ here is actually problematic for two reasons. One is that  they are being forced to change the narrative level significantly, and if such alterations are in fact part of the L10n can one even call the game a translation? If you don’t fight a Death Knight, a Lich and a Bone Dragon are you really playing Wrath of the Lich King? Is WoW: WotLK US/EU and WoW: WotLK China the same game? The second is that while WotLK was hounded by the Chinese goverment locally developed (multinational, but of Chinese origin) Perfect World Online was released with skeletons available for slaying. So how much of i18n and L10n are being enforced where they should not be, how much of cultural particularity or universality are being reinforced by political clout or business acquiescence where it is actually a nonexistent thing?


  • Koncewicz, Radek. Localizing Exclamations in FInal Fantasy XIII
  • Mickey Yang. “Pics: What’s Changed in Chinese Version Wrath of the Lich King.” Chinagame.178.com. Posted: 8/16/2010.

A Note/Warning on My Position

While I advocate for particular strategies and theories of translation, I do so in the historical context of 21st century US sociopolitical irresponsibility and dominance.

I do not speak as a minority, nor as a reader of a language fighting for survival and self determination. Rather, I write as an early 21st century US citizen who has seen ‘his’ country at war for a decade. A decade where significant backlash has resulted against people who look or act different regardless of their relationship to the ‘enemy.’

The US has fought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against an undefined terrorist that can best be summed up as ‘different.’ America is at war with difference: “those who oppose our way of life.” And one of the (many) ways this insane fear of, and aggression against, the cultural other has been reproduced to massive levels has been in the systematic representation of the other through and in translation.

A simple result of the discursive regime of domesticating translation (Venuti) is that everybody else – the foreign in books and other media – looks like us. As all translation, all media made by anybody else, is made to look as if it were made by us, we never see difference. All that is good looks like us. All it then takes is the mass display not only of difference, but difference that “hates us,” to spark 10 years of war.

I believe I do not overemphasize the importance of changing the way translation happens in the US.

  • Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008 [1994].
  • —. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference. New York: Routledge, 1998.

(New Media) Translation After Pound

The 20th century turn toward domestication essentially stems form Ezra Pound’s translations, but impurely, through the modern emphasis of the author mixed with the business of selling books.

According to Ronnie Apter in Digging for the Treasure: Translation After Pound, Pound influenced translation theory and practice in three major ways. First, was the move from “Victorian pseudo-archaic translation diction” to modern style. Second, is by arguing for a criticism of the original in some form: not simply the objective transfer (an acknowledged impossibility by the Victorians as well), but to focus on some particular element and thereby “criticize.” And finally, the creation of a new poem: not just something derivative.

These three were all essential breaks with both the Victorian practice, which focused on three criteria: paraphrase with no additions (subtractions were inevitable, but additions were taboo), the reproduction of the author’s traits (just what the traits were was, however, up for grabs), and the reproduction of the overall effect of the text (whether the “effect was of the original on the original’s original audience, or the original on the modern audience who can read the original text is unknown). It was also an adaptation with the contemporaneous translation theory professed by Matthew Arnold and F. W. Newman.

However, while Pound was translating against the Victorian grain, we have come full circle to a new norm. The fashion of the times has changed to one that embraces Pound’s basics, but not the depths. If “great translators transcend the fashion of their times [and] minor ones merely manipulate it” Pound was a great translator, many minor figures have manipulated his transcendence, but Pound himself would simply be one of any in the current fashion. As Lawrence Venuti has argued, the times and dominant style have changed and another transcendental shift is called for.

What I want to argue is that this shift is called for by the media itself. The move from literary page translation to multimedia and digital forms leads into new possibilities for and understandings of translation. In an interesting way, however, it is Pound’s logopoeia, his style of meta-translation, that can still lead the way. Whereas Pound focused on the meaning of words to bring into focus both the older era and the present, a type of dialectical juxtaposition, the move toward searchable, digital data in opposition to static, analogue data allows the simultaneous existence of both data sets and a new type of logopoeia. This new form of meta-translation involves the layering of translational tracks. Instead of juxtaposition, there is the coexistence of both tracks/languages/cultures.

This is similar to the possibilities evoked by subtitles and abuse (Nornes), but it considers the issue in relation to digital, new media and not simply film considered in an analogue manner. Instead of the ability to simply choose one or another track/language, it gives all, or switches between languages. It renders the possibilities of putting three real languages into a game such as Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 (English, Russian and Japanese to use the fictive world), but more meaningfully (and less deliberately/offensively stereotypically), of switching them on the fly so that one game has the US speaking English, the Russians Russian and the Japanese Japanese, but another switches so that the US speaks Japanese, the Russians English and the Japanese Russian. The media uses its ability to draw from the swappable data files not to simply replace one with another, thereby changing one representation into another, but to abuse the user with a constant active experience that questions the submerged normativity of language that exists with translated entertainment products (games in particular) at present.

What Type of World is it Again?

I’m sure the above is not something you need to question if you’ve sat through Disneyland’s Small World ride in either its new or old forms. We all know it’s a small world; we all know that all the people in the world are represented; we all know that everybody’s cute, singing oh so happy. What you/we might not know are some of these interesting particulars.

Like that in each of the rooms there exist Disney characters: Lilo and Stitch in the island/Hawaiian area, Aladdin in the Arabian world and so on and so forth. Is the world Disney or is Disney the world? And just what is the relationship between the Orientalist fantasy of Aladdin and whatever we may claim Disney(land) is?

And again, what of the happy warnings in the beginning that rotate between English to French to Spanish to English to Japanese to Spanish to English to German to Spanish and on ad infinum. Obviously that says something about the French, Japanese and German visitors, dying to hear the message about keeping their arms and legs inside the tram as well as those visitors that don’t get a personalized message. But it also says so much about the relationship between English and Spanish in a park, and corner of the country, that is indebted to Spanish speaking workers.

So what type of world are we in again? This time let’s not just call it small, or fun, or even troubled, but perhaps complicated.

thoughts from the plane

On my way to London (and just before) I watched two rather striking movies. Well, they weren’t particularly striking, but they had something that sparked my interest. Nigerians.

Both District 9 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have rather negative depictions of Nigerians. The former makes them arms, flesh and drug dealers in the alien district in South Africa and the latter turns them into the initial, random group of ‘baddies’ that Wolverine’s team faces off against and in the process display their mutant abilities. Both show Nigerians as black market dealers, as against the main law, as bad guys, but also interesting, as sub bad guys. In both movies they are not the main adversary, they’re represented as the fly that gets in the way, but not the bad bads (who are, in both movies, governmental agencies and the good guys are the rebels).

The second is something that has annoyed me for a long time, but was brought out in different way on the plane. Americans leave the movie early. By early, I mean before the credits finish rolling. This is not true of all Americans, I’m told, as Los Angelinos stay to the end to see their fellows. However, it’s quite different from Japanese where the movie does not end until the lights rise at the end of the credits and people do not leave until that point.

This observation has a few minor asides:
a) certain movies use gag clips or extra info during the credits to keep people in the audience (one such is Austin Powers), but the question then is whether people pay a whit of attention to the names as they are paying attention to the continued movie.
b) what about the difference between movies with the information at the beginning and the information at the end?

But the plane brought out something even stranger. X-Men Origin: Wolverine’s credits were fast forwarded through. The credit roll went up fast and it was unreadable, but it did go. Why? Is that adding insult to injury, just satisfying legal obligations? Or is it something else?

Castles and/as History for an American

That I’m an American is something I just realized while walking around Edinburgh. Specifically I realized that Disney Castle is a crock and real castles rock.

Slightly more generally I should point out that from the moment I went away to Japan I played with my nationality (just as I’d begun to play with my identity previously). Because of the (then) recent World Trade Center incident I remember reading and being told that Americans abroad should by evasive about their nationality in fear of repercussions against their selves. What this amounted to was a) don’t hang around the US embassy in Tokyo, and b) don’t broadcast that you’re American. For me, it had the added effect that because of my Portland (lack of) accent, being surrounded by an international and Japanese crowd and predominately speaking Japanese I was able to hide my nationality quite well. My accent in Japanese was completely unrecognizable and my English accent was relatively unplaceable, but most guessed somewhere in Europe (also because of my appearance).

So, I have generally thought about nationality and my ‘Americanness’ as something that is easily hide-able, unimportant and generally malleable. Of course, this is a rather obnoxious assumption as my Americanness is, of course, marked in various ways from mannerisms to specific words to those who look, but more importantly, it’s highly related to my understanding of particular terms, concepts and ideas.

I understand theory from a particular cultural perspective. Which is to say that I understand the world as an American. And one of the things that Americans don’t understand is History with a capital H that goes back into the architecture and ground. Sure, some cities on the east coast go back a few hundred years now and places have been around for a hundred plus years, but there certainly aren’t any castles or five hundred year old under layers of the city that have been built over.

So if Baudrillard and every other continental theorist must make the trip to California to see Disneyland and find simulacra, America, late capitalism, or whatnot, perhaps it is just as ‘necessary’ for Americans to go and see castles, cobbled roads, and old skinny streets to understand history and the real.

Everything is relative. This much is known. So maybe the relative understanding of the present depends on your knowledge of the past, real or simulation (or representation), etc.

Such were my thoughts before going to Edinburgh Castle, but having seen it from various vantage points around the city. Having done the castle visit I’m not quite as enlightened as I might have been, but it was interesting for a number of reasons.

Primarily, the castle was interesting because it was a glorified museum. Things were blocked off, things were accessible, people were funneled through the different sections to get pumped up info about topics from the history of Scotland and war (the predominant aspect of the information), the history of the crown jewels, the castle’s renovation as a prison, the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots was born, etc. The strange part to me is that the castle becomes the site of a museum for various things at the same time that it embodies (minimally) history.

However, the building as history did not happen like I somehow thought would be. Part of this is that the process of history entails building over the old things. Placards that announce any give piece of information are new. The books that announce the war dead from years past in one area were from 2008. The cobbled street, which one may guess is rather old is half paved over in some spots and who knows when it was actually cobbled.

There are no placards informing the visitor of when history took place, when it was imagined and altered. Instead, there is simply what ‘happened.’

Second, because the rooms present certain themes they exist outside of their original purpose. Even the birth of the queen of scots etc and the great hall are semi outside of history as it is presented as her birthplace but also some other’s birthplace and they are separated by numerous years. And the great hall seems to host various weapons, but its original purpose is outside of representation. The rooms are a smashup of time. However, the honours are possibly the best example as they are a long, almost Disneylike progression from start to end going through various rooms. The castle goer travels from room to room getting the history of the Honours, the sword, scepter, crown and jewels of Scotland including their making, the hiding for 111 years and finally in the last room one sees the actual objects. Two points of interest are that one sees replicas of the artifacts in almost every room before the final room (perhaps most interesting are the bronze replicas with lots of braille information surrounding them, and a half size sword, right before the final room). The second is that one is walking through rooms of the castle that have been completely reappropriated from whatever their original purpose might have been. You have no idea what the rooms might have been at any given point.

The result of this decontextualization of the space the castle becomes a vantage point to see the city and a place of (military) history, but it is taken out of time.

The ground and place itself, which I immediately thought of as history were turned no more into history than 100 and 200 year old buildings on the east coast of the United States. Which, I guess points to my innocence that there is actually some sort of feeling of time in places that is not history, which is the same whether it’s a day, a decade, a century or a millennia old.


An idea that I have been muling over in my head for a while is a reaction to the birthright policy of Israel. I have never been comfortable with the way that policy betweenZionist law of return, Israel and the United States have operated in relationship to my own person. It has never been a strong revolt, but a deep seated distrust. Ironically, it is the same distrust that I place on simple nationalism and its essential, exclusionary principles: you can’t have a nation without marking ideological/subjective borders; you can’t have a state without marking territorial borders. As such, it makes perfect sense that the process of defining Israel as a nation-state necessitates both the marking of boundaries on the land and with/in individuals. While I can deal with such markings in theory, I have a problem when the practice of territoriality then attempts to bring me into its rhetoric, essentially  pushing accountability onto me.

The law of return, as I understand it, claims that all Jewish people (loosely defined and used) have the ability to become full Israeli citizens as a process of ‘homecoming.’ There are a few purposes to the law: it provides a path to citizenship (necessary in any nation-state), it also purportedly solves fears of anti-semitism through the creation of a safe state and ends the diaspora/search for the land of Israel.

While problems exist on most levels of the its conception and implementation most problematic in my understanding is the relationship between expanding definition of those qualified to make the return and the inability of a Palestinian return. Through expanding who could return well beyond its original definition fromJew to child, spouse, grandchild et cetera there is initiated an infinite expansion that does not allow for a solution to the problem of Palestinian exile.

Part of the inability to solve the Palestinian return is thus placed not on the Israel’s own actions and policy, but on the potential citizens around the world. The placeholders of citizenship that exist for each of the 8 million non-Israelijews makes it impossible to deal with the actual people seeking to settle on that ground. The law of return makes it possible to foreclose the possibility of one person to obtain citizenship in order for another to have said citizenship in potentiality.

Such placeholder citizenship, as stated previously, places accountability on the ‘Jew’ who has no desire to ‘return,’ who has no intention to ‘return.’ However, there is no means of abandoning this placeholder granted by the census bureau. If there is a way to claim such a law of return, there needs to be an ability to deny, to revoke the so called ‘birthright.’